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Flea market not going to flee market yet

Someone told someone else who told someone else the Oldsmar Flea market is closing. Rumors, just rumors.

By NORA KOCH, Times Staff Writer
Published May 26, 2005

OLDSMAR - Contrary to popular belief, the Oldsmar Flea Market is not closing.

Managers insist the local landmark won't be leveled for new condos, and there are no plans to build a big box store on the site.

With rumors swirling that the 25-year-old flea market is on its deathbed, managers took out ads in local newspapers this week to set the record straight.

"The Oldsmar Flea Market has NOT been sold!!!" read the boldface print on the top of an ad in Tuesday's St. Petersburg Times business section.

Like in the sleepover game Telephone, rumors snowballed this spring that the flea market had been sold and would close soon, said manager Babe Wright.

"Everyone said, "My friend said they read it in the paper,' " said Wright, who has managed the market since it opened in 1980.

The flea market covers 20 acres at the corner of Tampa and Race Track roads. It is assessed for taxes at $2.725-million, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office. Wright said owner Richard Ferkich, a close friend for 30 years, would not comment.

Calls came into the office by the hundreds, from New York, Illinois, Indiana and Canada, said assistant manager Marcia Zielinski.

"A lot of these people are loyal to the flea market," Zielinski said. "It's their community . . . and this is their niche. . . . They see their friends here every week. They meet new people every week."

Vendors, some of whom are seasonal users of the market's 1,400 booths, have been desperate to know how long until they needed to remove their goods. Customers wanted to know when was their last chance for the market's fabled discount shopping.

"Everybody has the same question: "How come nobody told us the flea market was sold?' " said Zielinski, a 57-year-old Oldsmar resident.

About three weeks ago a man asked her what she would do after this job was over.

"I'm going to go to the Moose Lodge and have a couple drinks," Zielinski told him.

He meant where would she go when the place shut down.

Maintenance manager Ralph McWherter wore his work shirt to Home Depot last week, and he was barraged with curious hardware store shoppers wondering if the market was sold.

"I said no way," said McWherter, a 67-year-old Oldsmar resident who has worked at the market since 1987.

Tall tales about the market's demise come up most every year, said Wright.

"I've been there 25 years, and for the last 20 years every year this rumor starts: Someone's going to put condos on it; someone's going to put a mental hospital on it. I don't know where they get this from. It's not true," she said.

But this year the rumor seemed especially persistent.

People told her they read it in the paper. What paper, she doesn't know. They heard it from the bag boy at Publix.

Tim Liberti has heard the rumor during the four years he has run his business at the flea market. He started with a small booth and 63 boxes of vitamins that grew to become Bargains Galore Discount Outlet, a variety store with 100,000 different items.

"This last time people are really thinking, "They're definitely going to be closing, with all this building going on across the street,' " said Liberti, 52, who lives in Oldsmar.

In the past few weeks customers have asked him how he would possibly move his stock of goods, everything from shampoo and mouthwash to pellet guns and knife sets.

At first, he and his wife, Linda, were concerned. But no worries, he said. If it happens, it happens.

"But we've heard it so many times," he said. "I don't think they would sell it."

-- Nora Koch can be reached at nkoch@sptimes.com or 727 771-4304.

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